One would not immediately associate Dr. Seuss’s timeless story of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas as even tangentially falling into the horror genre, but here we are nonetheless. Billed as a parody that explicitly is forbidden to mention the actual word “Grinch,” Steven LaMorte’s The Mean One held a significant amount of promise. Riding on the coattails of Terrifier 2, actor David Howard Thornton fills the villainous green monster role. If Art the Clown playing “The Mean One” himself isn’t enough of a draw, the trailer appeared to promise bloody mayhem and ridiculous parody in equal measure. Unfortunately, The Mean One is unable to meet expectations in any way. Thanks to spotty acting, bizarre choices for the character of The Mean One, and a reliance on CGI blood, Yuletide cheer is virtually nonexistent.
Who doesn’t know the story? Cindy You-Know-Who awakens to The Mean One near the Christmas tree, curious about why “Santa Clause” looks so different. She forms an unbreakable bond with the Grinch, which eventually results in his heart growing back to a normal size instead of being two sizes too small. But what if that’s not how it really went? Cindy’s shocked mother comes in hot, warning Cindy to stay away from the “monster.” As a scuffle breaks out, Cindy’s mother is brutally murdered while the Mean One escapes. Apparently this incident haunted Cindy for life, because we then flash forward “nearly twenty years later.”
Returning to Newville with her dad, Cindy is still haunted by what she saw happen at such a young age. Her emotional breakdowns and struggles over what is “real” made me laugh out loud several times. The entire tale is narrated by a sassy individual that rhymes every phrase in faux-Suess fashion—this is an angle that could have easily worked if the writing was just a bit smarter. Instead, the rhymes and half-rhymes come across rather pedestrian. The town of Newville is adamantly said to not celebrate Christmas, and no decorations are to be found anywhere. According to smart old timer legend, every December, The Mean One murders people. More are vanishing every single year! Why, then, is there a Santa-themed bar crawl happening to serve as perfect fodder for the Grinch-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? Very little makes sense in the setup for Cindy to face the literal demon of her past.
As for The Mean One, I have so many thoughts. For starters, why is he devoid of any personality? There is nary a quip or wisecrack in sight. Sure, Thorton looks terrific behind the prosthetics, and has a definite presence. The first time we fully see the Grinch more than twenty minutes in, Cindy freaks out about him, proclaiming “you’re real,” as he growls and snarls like an animal. Presenting this version of the character we know as a simple animal in a Santa outfit doesn’t precisely gel, especially with his canine companion Max missing in action. I expected better material for Thorton. As Art the Clown, he always steals the show, but his take on the Grinch allows little room for complex characterization to shine through.
When The Mean One turns Cindy to survivalist Laurie Strode mode, it really began to lose me. To get away with cheesy one-liner after cheesy one-liner, the rest of the film around it needs to function adequately. The Mean One remains semi-entertaining throughout, but the overuse of CGI blood really bothered me. A simple story overstays its welcome—by the time we finally arrive at the preposterous finale battle between The Mean One and Cindy, it was hard for me to care. Once the ending rolls around, it won’t exactly leave one chanting “Yahoo doray.” The Grinch deserved better than this very flawed, structurally-hollow take on the mythology.
The Mean One tears open a box of Christmas cheer when it debuts nationwide exclusively in Regal Cinemas on Friday, December 9th.